How to Make Your Travel Meaningful

Many people feel that meaningful travel is strictly about going on a volunteering vacation, but there are many ways to make your travel meaningful.

Dave and I have always added meaning to our travels. Be it traveling responsibly, raising money for a cause, stopping at sanctuaries or projects, and interacting with the locals, there are many ways to enrich your travels while making your life and other people's lives better.

meaningful travel

How to Make your Travels Meaningful

Appearing on our favourite daytime talk show, The Social.

What is Meaningful Travel?

To us, meaningful travel is when travel enriches your life in some way.

That could be done by focusing on making your own life better by discovering and learning new things about the world and yourself.  It can also be making the lives richer for the people you meet, the communities you visit and the environments you explore. Meaningful travel is about being aware of your footprint and doing what you can to help the places that you visit.

1. Travel For A Cause

When we started we originally focused on changing our own lives by cycling through Africa, but it evolved to helping others. We decided to ride for Plan Canada and raise funds and awareness for the “Because I am a girl campaign.

Raising Awareness and Showcasing Projects on our Blog

We stopped at projects along the way to see the work they did and share it with our readers. The trip may have started with us wanting to do something epic in our travels, but it evolved to become a trip about discovery, education and helping others.

meaningful travel

Meaningful Travel volunteer

We've found that the more we learn about the world and the cultures we visit the more it enriches our lives. The more you give back, the more you feel fulfilled. When volunteering or helping others you expect nothing in return, but it ends up giving you so much.

meaningful travel tips visit a school

Visiting a School in Kenya

It is the greatest feeling to know that you are making the world a better place in your own little way.

Other Ways to Make Travel Meaningful

There are so many ways to make travel meaningful. While the first thought that comes to mind is to volunteer or to give money, thinking responsibly can make your travels more meaningful too.

When we travel, we try to support the local economy by hiring local guides. When we land in a destination, we search for people who run their own companies and have their own small business.

2. Support Local Businesses

Just as we like to shop small and support small business in Canada, the same can be said for our travels. Small business makes the world go round and by shopping at local markets, hiring local guides and eating at small family run restaurants, you will be helping the economy of the place you visit and create a more meaningful travel experience for yourself.

how to make travel meaningful support local busineses

We have remained friends with many of our guides and had a more authentic local experience by keeping our travels local and away from the resorts and packaged tours.

Why meaningful travel is beneficial?

Not only does it help the communities that you visit, it also helps you. We've always said that travel is the best education anyone could have. It breaks down barriers and strips away prejudice.

meaningful travel break down barriers

It opens people's minds and when you come home, you pass on your thoughts, observations, and feelings about the places you visit.

As Mark Twain saidTravel is fatal to prejudice, bigotry, and narrow-mindedness, and many of our people need it sorely on these accounts. Broad, wholesome, charitable views of men and things cannot be acquired by vegetating in one little corner of the earth all one's lifetime.”

So much of meaningful travel helps with sustainability too. When you volunteer or help with conservation, it keeps communities or wildlife reserves from being exploited. So much of meaningful travel is simply about being aware of your environment and respecting customs and culture.

meeting locals adds meaning to your travels

Things to remember when considering “meaningful” travel…

  • Think about your impact. How are you affecting the community you visit.
  • Will you traveling there enrich their lives?
  • Will you have the opportunity to experience the culture, nature, environment? Or will you be isolated and cut of from truly experiencing the destination?

Meaningful travel is not as daunting as people think

When it comes to adventure travel, we always say, start with baby steps. The same can be said when it comes to making your travels meaningful. It may be as easy as asking a local person at your destination where you can volunteer for a day, or where you can visit children or donate money to a school or organization.

responsible travel school visits

Once you take that first step, you'll learn and discover more opportunities.

Our first foray into more meaningful travel happened in 2003 in Cambodia.

We were sitting on a beach and a man asked us if we could come to his class to speak English to his students for an afternoon. He said that while he can speak English, it helps to have the students hear a proper accent.

It was one of the most fulfilling things we had ever done and it kick-started our desire to do something wherever we went. We learned so much that day. We were humbled, inspired and moved by their stories and struggles. They enriched our lives as much as we helped them with their English.

Tips to add Meaning to your Travels 

3. Travel for a cause

When we did the Mongol Rally, we drove across 2 continents for the Christina Nobel Foundation. A foundation based in Mongolia that houses and educates orphaned and abandoned children.

travel for a cause

When cycling the continent of Africa we raised funds and awareness for Plan Canada. By being in the destinations, we could stop at projects and see where our money was going and how funds were being used. It gave our cause more of a purpose to put a human face to the charity.

When we saw that they were benefitting directly from the money raised, we felt motivated to help more.

4.  Visit a Charity

It's easy to find a project to help or visit when you are traveling. Talk to the local people and ask them for advice. In Sri Lanka, we met a tuk tuk driver named Ajith who became our friend.

As we got to know him, we visited a charity that he started on his own to donate shoes to local school children. They'd otherwise be going to school bare foot in the jungle, but he raised funds to get them shoes and keeps working tirelessly to help the local economy.

travel for charity

Our guide Makau, in Kenya started a project to empower his own village. We visited his family and friends and he is working to bring water to his village, empower women and give them the means to go to school and he got them a cement maker to build a new school.

When we traveled with Intrepid Travel we always stopped to visit one of their projects. for the Intrepid Foundation. In China we visited a school that helps handicapped children.

If you choose your tour company wisely and you'll travel responsibly, be immersed in the local culture and even visit some of their charity projects if you choose.

5. Book Local Guides

Hire Local Guides and shop and stay locally. When we climbed to Mount Everest Base Camp, Mount Kilimanjaro, Gunung Batur, and Mount Kinabalu, we hired local guides after we arrived in the country.

meaning to travel local guides

It's a great way to contribute to the local economy and to support small business and we made good friends doing it. We still talk to our guides from Everest and Kili. Plus because we travelled with people from the area, they cared about their footprint, were respectful of culture, and filled with information for us to learn about the destination.

6. Shop Local

Local artisans make their money through tourism. So do farmers, local businesses and markets.

deb market

Instead of buying at duty-free or at your resort, go to the market and buy local. It's cheaper and it's handmade and authentic. Plus you get to meet the people.

Other Ideas to Add Meaning to Travel

7. Cooking Courses

Food is the best way to experiences culture and a cooking course is an amazing way to meet locals and learn about their way of eating.

meaning of travel cooking classes

We've done cooking courses in China, Morocco, Thailand, Italy, Spain and Jordan and nearly every one of them takes you to the market to buy your fresh ingredients. This helps you support the local economy and mingle with the locals.

We then normally go back to a private home or kitchen to learn how to prepare. It's then a feast to enjoy!

8. Yoga Retreats

Yoga is not only amazing for well being and fitness, it's popular around the world! Our best retreats have been when finding ones once we arrive in our destination.

meaning to your travel yoga

We spent a month in India with a Swami we met on a beach for $2 a class!

While others booked their retreats in North American paying thousands of dollars to take a course from a Western Instructor, we had an authentic experience and learned a lot about spirituality and culture in India while supporting a local business.

9. Wildlife Conservation

Elephant Sanctuaries, conservation areas and national parks are a way to add meaning to your travels meaningful.  When local people see that animals bring tourist dollars, they'll stop over hunting and start conservation.

responsible travel elephant orphanage

Elephant Orphanage in Kenya

In India, the tiger is nearly extinct, but now they're working hard to bring it back and National Parks are being set aside to keep them safe.

In Sri Lanka and Thailand there are elephant organizations that are helping elephants live in peace. We visited an elephant orphanage in Kenya where orphans are reintegrated back into the wild.

10. Festivals

An amazing way to get to know local culture and meet people is to attend a festival. We've had some of our most memorable travel experiences when attending a celebration.

making friends at Holi in India

Holi Festival India

From the annual pilgrimage up Adams Peak in Sri Lanka, to Thaipusam in Malaysia and Holi in India, it has added new meaning to our travels. Festivals help us to understand the beliefs and religions of countries we visit and helps us make new friends and meet new people.

There are countless ways to make your travels more meaningful. All you have to do is take the first step. Think about what you love and how you want to help and you too will be having a more fulfilling travel experience.

What way do you make your travels more meaningful?

Read More:

Importance of Responsible Tourism in Chiang Mai

A Visit to the Elephant Sanctuary

Volunteering Abroad

Human Elephant Conflict in Asia

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